Implementing the New York City Crisis Management System
LIFE Camp, Inc. (Love Ignites Freedom through Education) serves as the host organization for the South Jamaica Cure Violence program and crisis management system. LIFE Camp, Inc. was founded by Erica Ford in 2002 to teach violence prevention in schools. For more than two decades, Ms. Ford has worked to reduce and eliminate violence in Jamaica by creating programs that raise awareness about the issue and that serve the various populations of concern. LIFE Camp, Inc. has expanded its focus to provide empowerment opportunities for youth who are educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged.
According to the program’s website:
“Through the I Love My LIFE Campaign, LIFE Camp provides positive youth development opportunities that harness youth and community strengths and resources to address the epidemic of youth violence, and the conditions and behaviors associated with youth violence such as substance abuse, criminal justice involvement, and poor academic and professional engagement. LIFE Camp’s programs and services are community driven and holistic- developed with the understanding that the best solutions to community problems reside in the hearts and minds of the community, and that strong collaboration and coordination of diverse stakeholders is essential to achieving positive outcomes for youth.”
LIFE Camp, Inc. began running the South Jamaica Cure Violence program in 2012. The program’s catchm ent area lies within the 113th precinct of the New York Police Department (NYPD). The catchment area is where the staff members mediate conflicts and where most of the program participants reside. In February 2013, LIFE Camp, Inc. made a strategic decision to change their catchment area because most of the shootings and killings were streaming from parts of the neighborhood just outside the original area. As a result, their catchment area is now mostly occupied by Rochdale Village. LIFE Camp, Inc.’s offices are located at 111-12 Sutphin Blvd. in Queens, which is less than a mile away from the current catchment area.
Cure Violence Component
The South Jamaica effort consists of the two core components of the Cure Violence model, interruption and outreach, as well as the wrap-around services suggested by the City Council’s crisis management system. The Cure Violence staff includes the Executive Director, the Program Manager, the Outreach Supervisor, five Violence Interrupters and three Outreach Workers.
The work of violence interrupters is comprehensive and entails a variety of interpersonal skills and street knowledge. Violence interrupters work in teams and their objective is to mediate violent situations collaboratively. Their function is to observe violent settings, identify the major players in street violence, and to intervene when it is safe to do so in order to calm the situation. A typical day for a violence interrupter consists of patrolling a targeted area and ensuring that conflicts do not escalate to shootings and killings. An effective violence interrupter is one who is persistent, humble, open minded, who listens well, is able to cultivate relationships, and is aware of the full range of problems facing the community.
Outreach workers, on the other hand, promote the program’s services to prospective participants of Cure Violence. Many of the duties of outreach workers entail engagement with community members and those who are at-risk of violence. It is helpful for outreach workers to have an eye for, or a sense of the characteristics associated with troubled individuals or youth who are at-risk for violence. When an outreach worker identifies such youth, he or she attempts to approach the individual and to begin a series of casual conversations. Outreach workers often accompany youth participants to their respective programs and ensure that they return home safely. This is not an easy task considering that high-risk participants are restricted from certain places at specified times during the day. The typical caseload size for an outreach worker is 15 participants.
A developing partnership with Peace Keepers Global Initiative and the distribution of public information materials are also important aspects of the Cure Violence approach and the crisis management system. As recommended by the City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, both components are used to complement the efforts of the crisis management system. Peace Keepers trains community members to become first respondents to prevent violence. In addition, the Downtown Community Television Center is in the process of creating a public messaging campaign for the South Jamaica Cure Violence site.
To track its activities, the South Jamaica Cure Violence staff has been using the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention (CPVP) database. Although data collection is a continuous learning process, thus far, the staff has made every effort to enter participant information consistently into the database. According to information from the CPVP database for July 2012 through June 2013, outreach workers served a total of 42 participants and provided a total of 260 hours of service collectively. These contacts resulted in 17 job readiness referrals, 3 educational service referrals, and 4 mental health service referrals.
Wrap-around services are an important part of the City Council’s crisis management system. LIFE Camp, Inc. staff supports the model proposed by the City Council because they believe that implementing the Cure Violence program alone (i.e., outreach work and violence interruption) is not enough to address the gun violence issue in New York City. The goal of the crisis management system is to approach the gun violence issue holistically. The services provided are designed to mediate conflicts and to prevent shootings from happening, but also to address the needs of individuals and families most at risk for gun violence. Additionally, there are services for the victims of gun violence, their friends and family, and the community as a whole.
The South Jamaica program has implemented the following wrap-around services:
School-based conflict mediation: LIFE Camp, Inc. staff provides conflict mediation workshops at two neighborhood schools, Intermediate School 72 and August Martin High School. The goal is to provide the youth with tools to resolve conflicts in a more assertive and peaceful manner.
Mental health: The Fortune Society provides mental health services to at-risk for gun violence youth, especially to those who have experienced high level of trauma due to violence. Services are also provided to parents who have lost a child in a gun violence incident. This service is necessary and the coordination between LIFE Camp, Inc. and the Fortune Society is working effectively. In addition to these services, LIFE Camp, Inc. collaborates with other organizations to provide therapeutic services to Cure Violence participants and the South Jamaica community. For example, Harlem Mothers Save and The Chopra Foundation offer support and counsel to parents and loved ones who have lost a family member to gun violence. Additionally, violence interrupters conduct yoga sessions with South Jamaica youth in the Rochdale Village community Center. Program staff members believe that participating in yoga creates positive energy, sharpens self-discipline, and facilitates youth towards conscious decision-making.
Legal services: The Legal Aid Society offers a wide range of legal services. The organization offers workshops and forums to educate Cure Violence participants, their families and the community about the legal consequences of criminal behavior, the role of law enforcement and the functioning of the criminal justice system. Legal Aid helps its clients to navigate through social services systems, such as health care, public housing, schools, and immigration. The organization also advises clients about their legal rights and provides legal advice to participants undergoing court proceedings. According to LIFE Camp, Inc. staff, the relationship between LIFE Camp and Legal Aid needs to be strengthened further to be able to refer participants for legal assistance more effectively and expeditiously.
Job readiness and training: LaGuardia Community College provides job readiness and training for program participants. The College offers a 10-week comprehensive internship, which includes literacy, pre-GED courses, and job placement at the completion of the internship. The program prepares the participants to become more competitive and successful in the job market. In addition, participants work on neighborhood improvement projects, which encourages the community to perceives the program in a more positive and pro-social light.
Strengths and Challenges
The implementation of the crisis management system in South Jamaica, Queens has been aided by the support of many city agencies, including local city officials, NYPD, and other community organizations. Support from city officials has been critical in the development of the Cure Violence program at a time when resources in general are scarce. The relationship between South Jamaica Cure Violence staff and the New York City Police Department is quite positive, which is helpful in furthering the efforts of program staff, and the South Jamaica Community as a whole has been responsive and receptive to the approach pioneered by the crisis management system.
South Jamaica is fortunate to have a team that understands the mission, procedure, protocol and funding streams of the Cure Violence program. Shootings were down in early 2013 compared with the previous year, and the program staff attributes the difference to the implementation of Cure Violence and the crisis management system which introduced community members to a new way of dealing with violence by drawing upon support from volunteers in the community, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
Yet, the new effort has also faced serious challenges, particularly in relation to funding and continuity. Each provider partner received its funding at different times, which prevented the initiative from establishing coordinated strategies at start-up. Additionally, there is an ongoing need for more complementary services for participants, such as drug rehabilitation, as well as counseling and human resources supports for staff. Outreach workers and Violence interrupters are always at risk of stress and burn-out because of the nature of their work and the populations they must deal with on a regular basis.
Many of the obstacles highlighted by the LIFE Camp, Inc. staff are related to the need for closer coordination between the neighborhood and the city government. Before starting the implementation of the program, there were not enough formal meetings as to how services should be provided or how partnerships should work, which resulted in a lack of cohesiveness between partnering agencies. Regarding the daily work of the line staff, the influence of peer networks presents a significant challenge to outreach workers. Cure Violence participants often express a sincere desire to change their behaviors and lifestyles, but the social environment outside of the program hinder their first steps towards progress. Outreach workers report that is often difficult for them to convince participants that their lives can be different.